From floating high in a hot air balloon to renewing wedding vows deep in a cave, 2014 was a year of travel ups and downs

Water taxis cruise past mega-yachts and mansions in Fort Lauderdale, the 'Venice of America.' (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Water taxis cruise past mega-yachts and mansions in Fort Lauderdale, the ‘Venice of America.’ (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Yellow Ocean Riders zodiaks offer close encounters with whales off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Ocean Riders zodiaks offer close encounters with whales off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

From floating in a hot-air balloon high above the cactus-spiked desert north of Phoenix, Arizona, to renewing our wedding vows 50 feet underground in Bridal Cave at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, my 2014 travel year had its ups and downs. Literally.

But, thankfully, even the “down” was an up in a year of travel that carried me through 10 states and two international destinations.

In Mexico in March, the highlight – in addition to perfect weather — was cruising on a 14-seat yellow zodiak off Cabo San Lucas for a close encounter with whales.

I toured Berlin, Germany just months before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, absorbing the city’s checkered yet fascinating history while sampling today’s cosmopolitan restaurants, museums, shops and clubs.

On an April night in St. Louis, we rocked out with Chuck Berry, the 87-year-old “father of Rock and Roll,” who performed on stage at Blueberry Hill in the city’s lively Delmar Loop neighborhood.

At Disney World in Orlando, I caught the spring debut of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a family-friendly coaster, and witnessed this year’s “Frozen” phenomenon first-hand in the form of packs of little girls decked out in Elsa and Anna attire.

Elsewhere in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale, I took a narrated cruise on a water-taxi to ogle the homes – and mega-yachts — of the rich and famous in a palm tree-dotted city that’s been called the ‘Venice of America.’

In October, my husband, Steve, and I took a 2,400 miles road-trip to South Carolina and Georgia. Memorable moments included golfing at the King and Prince Golf Course on St. Simons Island and pigging out at nearby Southern Soul Barbeque. We also inspected the elegant boardroom at The Cloister at Sea Island where Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and other world leaders gathered in 2004 for the G8 summit.

But the real highlight of my golf year – make that my golf decade – happened closer to home, at Crooked Tree Golf Club in Petoskey, where I entered golf’s elusive Zen zone and not only exceeded my longtime goal of breaking 100 — by six strokes — but also outscored my husband. Woo-hoo!

Michigan served up plenty of other 2014 highlights. Traveling in the Upper Peninsula in September, I chanced upon a niece of a crewman who went down with the Edmund Fitzgerald when the ship sank during a fierce Lake Superior storm on Nov. 10, 1975. Ohioan Fran Gabor and I were touring the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point on the same day and her personal take on the tragedy made for a compelling story; thousands of readers shared it on Facebook.

Then, on a day when waves crested above six feet, I got my own taste of Lake Superior on a Pictured Rocks Cruises boat tour past famous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore rock formations including Miners Castle, Indianhead, Flower Vase and Lovers Leap.

And in Sault Ste. Marie, we “locked through” the Soo Locks aboard a Soo Locks Boat Tours vessel, Le Voyageur, rising and descending 21 feet between Lake Huron and Lake Superior in the St. Mary’s River.

We also took in several stellar Michigan festivals and events: the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, with its thrilling Blue Angels air show; Street Musique in Harbor Springs featuring street corner entertainment on summer Thursday nights; and the popular ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, where citizens vote on diverse art installations across the city.

In June, in Ann Arbor, I met director John Sayles after watching his film, “Silver City,” at the Cinetopia International Film Festival. And in Detroit in October, I saw Motown the Musical at the Fisher Theatre just hours after touring the Motown Museum, aka Hitsville USA. Wow!

In various spots along the way, we sampled Michigan wines from the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas and Michigan craft beers from Short’s Brewery in Bellaire, Chelsea Alehouse Brewery and the Ann Arbor Brewing Company. My favorite 2014 craft cocktails were a Michigan Mule served in a copper mug and topped with local blueberries at Das Steinhaus in Marquette and a Mrs. Jack (Jack Daniels, peach schnapps, blue curacao and orange juice on the rocks) on the patio of Jack’ss Sports Bar & Grill in East Tawas.

Here’s to more great travel adventures in 2015!

(And watch for more details about my top two 2014 travel events in upcoming posts).